A varicocele is a varicose vein (or enlarged vein) that occurs inside the scrotum. The veins affected are apart of the pampiniform venous plexus, the plexus of veins that drains the testicles. A varicocele can be the result of defective valves in the pampiniform plexus, or be due to compression of the vein by a nearby structure causing dilation of the testicular veins.

Varicocele veins occur in about 20% of the male population, although some estimates suggest they affect 1 in 6 males, in varying degrees of severity. While most cases are mild, and cause few or no symptoms, in severe cases, varicoceles can result in testicular atrophy. Unlike varicose veins, the affected population tends to be younger, with varicoceles most commonly beginning to manifest between ages 15 and 25.

Varicoceles may be visible, or palpable, but they are not always. When varicoceles are neither visible or palpable, other symptoms may indicate their presence including:

  • Downward-dragging or aching pain in the scrotum

  • A feeling of heaviness in the testicle(s)

  • Atrophy or shrinking of one or both testicles

  • Alteration of testosterone levels

  • Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

  • Urinary problems

  • Infertility

Varicoceles are a common cause of both decreased sperm quality and of low sperm production, which can result in infertility. It has been found that among men seeking treatment for infertility, about 40% have a varicocele in at least one testicle. A 2012 Cochrane Review found only tentative evidence of improved fertility among men treated surgically for varicoceles, with an estimated 1 in 7 men seeing improved fertility.

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, bowel health, testicular temperature, and activity level all play a role in varicocele occurrence and symptom severity. In addition to providing support for lifestyle changes that might factor a change in varicocele symptoms, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help to significantly improve the occurrence and symptoms. In a study from Hiromichi Ishikawa et al, published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 37 infertile patients with varicocele were treated with herbs to reduce blood stagnation over a period of 3 months. During the course of the study, they obtained a varicocele disappearance rate of 80%, saw improvements in sperm concentration in 71.4% of the patients, and improvements in motility in 62.1% of the patients.

Herbal medicine, acupuncture, and lifestyle changes can help to provide those with varicoceles an alternative to surgery, or as an adjunct therapy. Contact our fertility experts today to find out if you might benefit from our male factor treatment program!


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